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what's beyond dispute is this, drone attacks have become a huge weapon for this country. and this president has made unprecedented use of them. nbc news has obtained a government document that lays out the legal argument to justify the president's use of drones to kill al qaeda suspects, including, in some cases, u.s. citizens. our national investigative correspondent michael isikoff broke the story and has our report. >> reporter: drones have been called president obama's weapon of choice. during his four years as commander in chief, u.s. military and cia drone strikes have accelerated at an unprecedented pace. more than 400 cia strikes against targets in pakistan and yemen. eight times as many as under president bush. >> they have been very precise, precision strikes against al qaeda and their affiliates. >> these strikes are legal. they are ethical. and they are wise. >> reporter: but today, new questions about drone strikes
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targeting american citizens, including anwar al awlaki. born in new mexico and killed in yemen in 2011. he allegedly directed the so-called underwear bomber, who tried to blow up an airliner over detroit in 2009. but awlaki was never charged with a crime. nbc news has obtained this confidential 16-page justice department memo that concludes lethal strikes against u.s. citizens who are operational leaders of al qaeda are a lawful act of national self-defense. >> we only take these kinds of actions when there's an imminent threat, when capture is not feasible, and when we are confident that we're doing so in a way that's consistent with federal and international law. >> reporter: but the memo appears to allow greater leeway than the administration has publicly acknowledged. it says an imminent threat does not require the united states to have clear evidence that a specific attack on u.s. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.
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the aclu is challenging obama's drone policy and is suing the u.s. government over awlaki's death on behalf of his family. >> it is a chilling document. it's, you know, it sets out the government's claimed authority to carry out the targeted killing of american citizens. but the limits are really vague and elastic, and it's very easy to see how they could be manipulated. >> reporter: nbc news analyst michael lighter, a former counterterrorism official who worked on the policy, says it reflects the reality of the murky war against al qaeda. >> the nature of intelligence is such that it really is unreasonable to expect that the u.s. will always have specific evidence about a plot. instead, this allows some flexibility, in that these senior leaders are assumed to consistently have been plotting. >> reporter: the architect of the administration's drone policy is white house counterterrorism adviser john brennan, now the president's nominee to be cia director.
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>> it's this surgical precision, the ability with laser-like focus to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al qaeda terrorist. >> reporter: but his departing defense chief leon panetta, a former cia director, acknowledged this week, choosing targets for such strikes, killing by remote control, is never easy. >> i remember when i first became director of the cia and realized that i was making life and death decisions with regards to our operations. it doesn't come lightly. >> reporter: a bipartisan group of senators is demanding more transparency about the drone strikes targeting americans. and they're expected to grill brennan about the subject on thursday when he appears before the senate intelligence committee at his confirmation hearing to be the next cia director. brian? >> michael isikoff who broke this story in our d.c. newsroom for us tonight. michael, thanks. on the domestic front, ever since the housing crisis that started the meltdown of the u.s. economy, a lot of americans have been waiting to see who would be held accountable. who would pay a price for what was done to our economy?
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today, the justice department announced it's going after one player, the huge credit rating agency s&p. it's a big case that could result in a big fine, but some are also wondering if revenge isn't a motive here because the s&p, after all, lowered the u.s. credit rating after the fiscal cliff debacle. our report on all of it tonight from our justice correspondent pete williams. >> reporter: the justice department and a dozen states today accused the world's largest credit rating agency, standard & poor's, or s&p, of endorsing investments that it knew were shaky, playing a direct role in the housing collapse. >> s&p was a trigger for the destruction of our economy. while big banks and lenders built mortgage-backed bombs, it was s&p's faulty ratings that detonated them. >> reporter: the lawsuits claim that for at least three years s&p gave its highest rating, aaa, to financial packages
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issued by banks and made up of mortgages, even though the company knew the investments were risky. s&p did it, the government claims, to please the very banks that were paying it to rate their investments. >> we have evidence that s&p not only knew this is what the banks were doing, s&p helped them to do it. >> reporter: the company says its ratings were honest calls, based on assessments of the housing market at the time, similar to what the man who was then treasury secretary was saying. >> the ratings at issue here were virtually identical with those of not only other rating agencies, but with the views expressed by secretary paulsen. >> reporter: two years ago, s&p downgraded the u.s. credit rating, a blow to the recovery. >> if we're going to be downgraded by s&p -- >> reporter: attorney general eric holder says that had nothing to do with today's move. >> they are not in any way connected. >> reporter: but a legal expert says that issue hangs over this case. >> obviously the doj will have to explain, assuming that this even gets to a jury, why it is
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pursuing s&p and not the other credit rating agencies. >> reporter: the justice department is not charging s&p with a crime, but could seek a huge fine, up to $5 billion. pete williams, nbc news, washington. well, first we had the fiscal cliff crisis and then the debt ceiling drama. now president obama is calling on congress to get past the next term we all need to turn, the sequester. big, across-the-board spending cuts that are due to take effect the 1st of march. the president called today for a limited package of spending cuts and tax reforms to avoid the deadline. republican speaker of the house john boehner rejected that, saying republicans want a bigger agreement on a long-term deficit reduction plan. the white house also announced today president obama will be going to israel this spring for the first time since taking office. israeli media say he's due to arrive march 20th, though the white house would not confirm any of the travel dates. we are learning much more tonight about the breaking story we brought you here last night. the dramatic rescue of a
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5-year-old boy after a standoff in alabama that lasted almost a week. nbc's gabe gutierrez is with us tonight from midland city, alabama. gabe, good evening. >> reporter: brian, good evening. today ethan's mother broke her silence. in a written statement she said, i woke up this morning to the most beautiful sight, my sweet boy. i can't describe how incredible it is to hold him again. at the hospital today, there were no signs of the ordeal young ethan, seen here in earlier photos, has been through. >> he was running around the hospital room, putting sticky notes on everyone that was in there, eating a turkey sandwich, and watching spongebob. >> reporter: at the site of the standoff, federal bomb technicians are searching for possible explosives. as details emerge, we're learning the fbi operation to free ethan was calculated, meticulous, and daring. >> i thought that the fbi action
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yesterday was exemplary, and as i think more details are shared, you will understand why i use the word exemplary. >> reporter: we now know that five days into the standoff, while 65-year-old jimmy lee dykes held ethan hostage underground, police say their daily negotiations deteriorated. dykes appeared more unstable and yesterday started carrying a gun. negotiators knew that, police sources say, because of a secret camera the team somehow managed to sneak into the bunker. but agents were ready to move. they had built a mock-up of the bunker nearby and practiced rescue attempts. >> you want to create that two, three-second window of opportunity emotionally where the tactical team can go in, take the person by surprise. >> reporter: when they believed ethan was in danger, they yanked open the bunker's hatch and swooped in. law enforcement sources say they distracted dykes with a flash bang then rushed in and grabbed the boy. autopsy results are pending to confirm whether it was a fatal gunshot that killed dykes. as for his motive, investigators
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say they may never know why he demanded random hostages on a school bus. >> he kept picking children, i want you, you, you and you. >> reporter: but he only took one, ethan, who was freed just in time for his birthday. >> we are so thankful that this tragic story has a happy ending. >> reporter: he turns 6 tomorrow. back here at the site of the standoff, there is still plenty of activity. investigators plan to be processing evidence for days. brian? >> gabe gutierrez, midland city, alabama, for us tonight. gabe, thanks. this was a big story earlier today involving one of the best-known names in sports, and if you've watched the past few winter olympics you know lindsey vonn. we've seen her on the slopes, we've seen her in profiles and commercials, and today we saw her in a frightening accident while skiing in foggy conditions at the world championships in austria. tonight, the extent of her injuries is now clear. we get our report from nbc's chris jansing.
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>> so many traps in this course with the conditions. >> reporter: it was the kind of jump lindsey vonn has made a thousand times before. but today, a horrific crash. >> over the top! and she is down heavily. lindsey vonn -- >> reporter: you can hear the painful screams, and see the shocked reaction on the faces of her fans and competitors. >> to watch her lie there, of course, as a ski racer and as a commentator, it was horrifying. >> reporter: medical teams treated vonn for 12 minutes before she was airlifted to the hospital where tests showed two torn ligaments and a bone fracture with the olympics one year away. >> so we're looking at a window that's really -- the clock's ticking for her. >> exactly. some people are back skiing in six months. skiing in the olympics, it's going to be tough. >> reporter: vonn is out for the rest of the season, but the u.s. ski team believes she will make a comeback in time for the winter games in sochi, russia. she took gold and bronze in vancouver and is a four-time
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world cup champion. the most successful american skier in history. >> action. >> reporter: a favorite with sponsors, tabloids love her, too. her unconfirmed romance with tiger woods and her revelation that she's battled depression. >> hi, dad! >> reporter: but since she was 3 years old she's been happiest on the slopes. telling brian williams in 2010 that this is what she was born to do. >> i've given my entire life for the sport. >> reporter: there have been other heart-stopping falls. she came back from a terrible crash in torino two days later. but this time won't be easy. >> lindsey vonn is so tough, works so hard. if anyone can come back from this in time for the olympics, it's lindsey vonn. >> reporter: the heart of a champion with a track record of beating the odds. chris jansing, nbc news, new york. and still ahead as we continue tonight, millions of americans stuck in traffic at this very moment, in fact, losing their patience along with a ton of time and money. where the gridlock is the worst. we'll have that tonight. and some ideas to make it better.
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and later, "making a difference." they're using teamwork to deliver a few small victories to folks who could really use them right about now.
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it's the way millions of us start our day, in traffic, often late, often aggravated, and wondering why it has to be this way. tonight, we have new numbers on exactly how bad the problem has become. how much time we spend in traffic. how much it costs us all. and what it's doing to our world. tom costello is with us tonight from one of the routinely worst spots in the nation, and, tom, what has happened in bethesda, maryland, behind you? it appears traffic is flowing. >> yeah, well, you know, murphy's law, right? 20 seconds ago i swear it was a little more congested. but the texas transportation institute says that in some cities in this country, you need to add an extra hour, hour and a half, two hours to a 30-minute
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drive just to get there on time. rush hour in l.a. >> we had a car that hit the guard rail. >> reporter: and veteran traffic reporter jennifer york is on the air. >> it's miserable. i mean, i don't think there's really any good day anymore to get to where you need to go. >> reporter: you name the city, you're bound to hear the same complaint. >> i wish i could get that time back. time is money. >> too many people driving, and not enough highway bandwidth. that's the reason. >> reporter: now, the list is out. the most congested city in america, washington. with commuters burning 67 hours and 32 gallons of fuel a year sitting in traffic. followed by l.a., san francisco, new york, boston, houston, atlanta, chicago, philly, and seattle. congestion costs each commuter about $818 per year. with each commuter responsible for about 380 pounds of carbon dioxide emission per year. and researchers predict gridlock will only worsen as the economy picks up. >> what's really important now is for us to look at different strategies.
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now is really the time for us to act. >> reporter: some cities are acting. improving traffic light timing, adding roundabouts and better highway flow patterns, installing light rail systems. in california, a $68 billion high speed rail corridor is under construction. while in portland, roughly 6% of commuters are now biking. >> i think downtown has tried to decrease the appeal of driving. >> reporter: but how appropriate that d.c., known for political gridlock, also leads the country in traffic gridlock? local nbc reporter adam tufts has covered d.c. traffic for seven years. >> space is limited here. the transportation leaders are trying to build their way out of the worst gridlock in the country. building more highway lanes, building more train lines and building more places that get people out of their cars. >> reporter: a big challenge in a country that still loves its cars. researchers say if the trend continues, by 2020 the price per person in this country per commuter will go from $800 a
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year to $1,000 a year. brian? >> tom costello in bethesda, maryland, just outside d.c. tom, thanks. just to emphasize this point that nobody is immune to traffic nightmares, the victory parade for the super bowl champion baltimore ravens was delayed this morning because of a jam on the interstate. when things finally got rolling, it was a love fest for team and fans alike. ending up with a huge rally at their stadium packed to the rafters. we're back in a moment with a late-night showdown and a politician tackling a big issue head-on.
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new jersey governor chris christie took advantage of his first-ever appearance on david letterman last night to hit a big issue head-on, and it happened right in the middle of their conversation. >> i didn't know this was going to be this long. i'm like basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever
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seen in your life. >> the governor insisted his overall health is good, including cholesterol and blood sugar. but then this afternoon, president clinton's former white house physician, dr. connie mariano, was quoted by cnn as saying, i'm worried about this man dying in office. at an afternoon press conference in new jersey, the governor chose to then get serious on the topic of his 30-year struggle with his weight. >> so far, up to 50 years old, i've been remarkably healthy. and, you know, my doctor continues to warn me that my luck is going to run out relatively soon, so believe me, it's something that i'm very conscious of. >> the governor said last night and today, that like all people who struggle with weight, he thinks about it constantly, and it's a major topic of conversation in his family. a bizarre video has been posted on youtube by north korea, including some disturbing images set to a gauzy rendition of "we are the world." it's a propaganda video that seems to be part dream sequence,
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part video game. it shows a missile launch and then later what appears to be new york city in flames. back in the real world, we're back with our "making a difference" report right after this.
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time now for our "making a difference" report. it's been 100 days since hurricane sandy hit the northeast. even now many areas are completely decimated. but one of those neighborhoods is getting a helping hand from some visitors who are superstars back home. our "making a difference" report tonight from nbc's stephanie gosk in new york's breezy point. >> reporter: breezy point, queens, has seen a steady stream of volunteer work crews. but none quite like this one. >> if you pull back there -- >> reporter: their faces may not look familiar, but in ireland, these guys are icons. >> huge one. >> reporter: star athletes from ireland's gaelic pastimes, curling and football. they left stadiums at home packed with 80,000 screaming
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fans to come and help this mostly irish community. one of the hardest hit by sandy. the players' first visit was just after coach pat gilroy won the all-ireland championship, ten days after the storm. did you have any idea just how bad it was? >> no. no. we knew it was bad but nothing like what we saw when we came out here. >> reporter: the goalie says they came to show off the trophy. but, instead, started helping out. >> there was an old man approached us and asked us could we give him a lift with a fridge. we were delighted someone asked us to do a bit of real work. >> reporter: after the trip the players vowed to come back. connected to the people here through shared irish heritage. >> we're tight-knit. when you see some of your own having such devastation, we were all very touched by them. >> reporter: the community center was wiped out, including the popular basketball court. the team raised money back in ireland to rebuild. there is plenty of green on this basketball court. if anyone had any doubt that the irish were involved in doing this.
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the court was christened with bagpipes and basketball. everyone thankful to get this sliver of normalcy returned. >> it's the main focal point for the community and for the kids to see one another and to play. >> reporter: and possibly learn a new sport in the process. >> one of the efforts of sports, be a leader on and off the field. this is the best of what a sports player is. >> reporter: no matter where they come from. stephanie gosk, nbc news, breezy point, queens. >> that is our broadcast on a tuesday night. thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams, and of course, we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. and good evening, everyone.
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i'm jessica aguirre. >> and i'm raj mathai. we're following that breaking news in forestville. this is a small city northwest of santa rosa. startling discovery, a triple homicide. the sonoma county sheriff's department was called to the home on rock station road after 3:00 this afternoon. our nbc chopper is on the scene and the investigators and deputies are on the scene down below where three men were found dead inside of a house. this is new video now just in to our newsroom. a sheriff's lieutenant says all the victims were shot to death. we don't yet know their identities or how they are related. we will continue to bring you updates on this case as we get them. >> now to another disturbing story, this one involving a teenaged girl apparently murdered. her naked body dumped in a fair field park. tonight we know who that girl is and police are hoping that a photo of her last known image will help lead them to her killer. jodi hernandez has been following the story since it first broke.
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jodi, it's hard to see the fphoo and video. >> reporter: police did identify that girl. they also released a chilling image taken of her just minutes before she was last seen alive. they are hoping that photograph will help lead to the person responsible. you are looking at the very last picture of a 13-year-old girl taken just minutes before she was last seen. this photo captured at an intersection five miles from the park where her naked body was discovered on friday shows her carrying a pink backpack and talking on her cell phone. >> i think it's just terrible and she didn't deserve it because she was only 13. >> alyssa watkins can hardly believe one of her closest friends suffered such a tere

NBC Nightly News
NBC February 5, 2013 5:30pm-6:00pm PST

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TOPIC FREQUENCY S&p 13, U.s. 10, Us 8, Nbc 6, Ethan 4, Alabama 3, New York 3, Ireland 3, Nbc News 3, Bethesda 2, Midland City 2, Olympics 2, Washington 2, Tom Costello 2, Brian Williams 2, Michael Isikoff 2, Pete Williams 2, Dykes 2, Stephanie Gosk 2, Queens 2
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